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Agency invoicing - The horrors of web-based management systems
Thread poster: Aviation Expert

Aviation Expert  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:59
Member (2011)
English to German
+ ...
Jul 5

Hi All!

Lately, it seems to be a trend among my agency clients to switch to online portals / cloud management systems (whatever you wanna call them) for their invoice processing.

I used to write my invoices around the end of the month and I'd send them to my clients via e-mail. It was a straightforward process that usually took half a working day to send out all invoices. Recently, some of my clients have transitioned to online systems. They expect me to log in and process/create my invoice on their portal. I can't begin to tell you how annoying this is. Not only do I now have a mess of different invoice layouts and formats, but some of these systems also have restrictions on WHEN it's possible to invoice for certain tasks.
As an independent freelancer, I'd like to be able to decide for myself when I send invoices for the work I've done.

Another problem is that each system is different, with its own interface, login credentials etc.
When I click my way through these portals, I feel like I'm doing the agency's administrative work without being paid for it. I'm not their employee, after all! They should have to manage their stuff themselves. Nowadays, I spend a lot more time on my invoices because of these management systems, and nobody is paying me for it. I can see how these systems make their life easier, but they make my work more difficult.

The problem is, I can't just stop working for theses agencies because among them are four of my best clients.

What is your experience / opinion about this? Do you also notice a trend towards these systems, and what are your suggestions how to best react to this development?

Thank you!

Best,
-Michael.


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Lianne van de Ven  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:59
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
It stinks. Add $35 invoicing fee? Jul 5

It's just flat-out annoying that my clients tell me how I should write invoices... to be honest.
I have one client that takes me nearly 45 minutes each month to sort through their stuff and that's not an online system, just a spreadsheet into which I have to enter data based on strings, numbers, PO's that I have received in the course of a job. I had to create a 22 step procedure to remember how to do this, and this month it didn't even work because the numbers didn't match.

Bottom-line: they are slimming their processes and passing the problem on to you. You are exactly right about that.


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:59
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Convince them, charge them or let them go Jul 5

I fully agree.

I actually refuse to work with the kind of online portals you're referring to for free. I charge an extra fee, and I make sure that it's high enough, so (i) I either achieve the hourly rate I'm charging for translation by doing clerical work for the agency (which they could get for a fraction of said rate), or (ii) the agency agrees to continue working with me in the regular way that businesses all over the world have been applying for ages, or (iii) the agency is losing a translator. In neither case will I be losing out (because in case (iii), I wouldn't want to keep working with them anyway). Mostly, the agencies chose option (ii), but (i) happens as well. By far the rarest case is (iii).

I was about to remark that there had been a similar topic recently, but actually, it's more than a year old. Anyway, it's still relevant:

http://www.proz.com/forum/business_issues/299267-growing_control_of_translation_agencies.html

Regards,
Erik


[Edited at 2017-07-05 20:37 GMT]


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Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:59
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
Horrors indeed Jul 5

"What is your experience / opinion about this?"

To be short, experience is the same / opinion I hate it, but some agencies are even taking it further.

First of all, by Dutch tax regulation/law I am obliged to make an invoice, automatic system or not. The other week I sent an invoice to an agency, and received a reply that they couldn't accept my bill, because it lacked (according to them) all kind of information (like name PM, start date project, end date project, VAT exemption and something else I can't remember right now).

What the h... is going on? They are buying a service from us! Suppose you are buying, let's say, a fridge online, and the company sends you an invoice, but you refuse to pay it because it doesn't contain .... (use your fantasy). Do you think this would be accepted in the real world?

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[Edited at 2017-07-05 20:48 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-05 20:49 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-05 21:41 GMT]


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Jan Truper
Germany
Local time: 17:59
Member (2016)
English to German
+ ...
It depends on the design of the system Jul 5

I generally abhor doing bureaucratic stuff, and preparing invoices is no exception.

Some agencies' web-based invoicing systems actually make it easier for me. In my favorite one, I just have to
-mark the jobs I want to include
-click on "generate invoice"
-enter my invoice number.
The invoice is then generated by the system and the download starts automatically.
Hassle-free, quick, wonderful.

On the other end of the spectrum is a system of a very large and somewhat infamous agency that requires me to
- prepare a single effing invoice for each single effing PO according to their effing guidelines
- then enter the same data (which is already contained in my invoice!!!) piece by piece into their stupid online system
- then click on a bunch of stupid statements and upload my invoice.
Annoying, doubly time-consuming, shite.

Because I hate the second company's invoicing process so much, I rarely work for them and only accept large, interesting jobs at rates that help ease the pain.


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 00:59
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
MIxed bag Jul 6

I've actually come around to some of the systems, especially when I do a lot of work for the agency - provided, of course, that the process is simple, intuitive and quick.

My most recent invoicing cycle took me 5 painstaking hours (I, er, skipped a cycle), and very little of it had to do with web-based management systems.


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Gitte Hovedskov
Denmark
Local time: 17:59
Danish to English
+ ...
Put up with it, or be prepared to lose the client Jul 6

To be realistic, once an agency (or any client) has invested time and resources in setting up an invoicing - or any other kind of administrative - system, they are not likely to change this for the sake of one freelance translator, are they?

That leaves you with two choices:
1. Put up with it.
2. Don't put up with it, but be prepared to lose the client.

I've done both.

In Denmark, all invoices to government institutions and authorities have to be submitted via an electronic invoicing system. If you don't invoice those clients through this system, you simply do not get paid. So, we all comply and use that system. And once you get used to it, it's not that bad. I still prepare my own invoices for my own system (and attach these to the 'official' invoice). This way, my own accounting system is in perfect order.

I had a regular client who suddenly and unilaterally decided to change our invoicing practice, and I objected to this, mentioning that I needed to have my own invoices for tax purposes. The client never responded, and never sent me another assignment. I regretted my stubborness, I must admit, as I could simply have done the same as I do for my government clients. Simply make out my own invoices AS WELL AS the required online invoice.

I appreciate that if you have many clients who insist on you using their individual systems, this can amount to a lot of annoying, unpaid work. But I don't think adding an 'invoicing fee' is the solution. The solution is to set your rates so that they correspond to the work you do for the client, including their administrative extras. And if you can't agree on such rates... well, what's the point in having those clients?

In other words, YOU are the boss of you. YOU decide how you want to run your business. YOU decide what you are willing to agree to. YOU decide where to draw the line.

Good luck with that


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 16:59
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I hate it Jul 6

I hate it and I’ve been letting them go...

Most of these systems are complex and annoying and then to cap it all none results in a valid invoice accepted by my tax authorities, so I was forced to do all the invoicing twice. No, thank you!


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
+1 Jul 6

Gitte Hovedskov wrote:

The solution is to set your rates so that they correspond to the work you do for the client, including their administrative extras.


This.

Welcome back, Gitte!


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:59
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Sometimes unnecessarily cumbersome and unfair Jul 6

In my experience, some of these online invoicing systems are unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming. One agency I used to work for occasionally with no problems suddenly introduced an online invoicing system which they insisted translators MUST use or their invoices would not be accepted. It was Byzantine in its intricacy. Among other irritants, the agency issued a temporary password for each job which expired if not used within five minutes. In some cases their invoicing procedure took longer to complete than the translation itself. I've stopped working for them.

In other cases, the translator is not "allowed" to invoice the work until the agency has entered the job in its online system which can be a couple of weeks after the work was delivered - it's the agency's decision. The translator has no choice. The payment period then runs from the date when the agency decides to enter the job in its system, thus unfairly increasing the supposedly 30 days net payment delay to 40 or even 60+ days net.

I can't imagine telling my motor mechanic or builder than I won't accept his invoice unless he follows my invoicing procedures or until I have decided to enter it in my system.


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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:59
Member
English to Italian
+ ...
Consistent approach Jul 6

Robert Rietvelt wrote:

What the h... is going on? They are buying a service from us! Suppose you are buying, let's say, a fridge online, and the company sends you an invoice, but you refuse to pay it because it doesn't contain .... (use your fantasy). Do you think this would be accepted in the real world?


Jenny Forbes wrote:

I can't imagine telling my motor mechanic or builder than I won't accept his invoice unless he follows my invoicing procedures or until I have decided to enter it in my system.


I'd say this approach seems quite consistent with how several agencies appear to consider freelance translators. They have their NDAs, their SLAs, their 'limited liability' toward everyone and their dog, their procedures, their deadlines, their payment terms and methods, their 'windows' to accept a 'maximum number' of invoices per month, their tests and standards, their style guides, their query portals, sometimes even their 'standard rates' or their invoice templates, so it's pretty consistent of them to have their invoicing procedures/platforms as well, isn't it? The fact we're not their clients or employees, but their vendors, is but a minor detail...

This also seems to be quite representative of the existing power relations between the two parties (in most cases). This is probably all the more true the more 'common' a pair is and the less 'specialized' the subject matter.


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Gitte Hovedskov
Denmark
Local time: 17:59
Danish to English
+ ...
Thanks, Chris Jul 6

Very kind of you to notice.

Chris S wrote:

Welcome back, Gitte!


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Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 17:59
Member (2016)
English to German
It depends on the work and red tape involved Jul 6

Like many others, I hate administrative work like invoicing. But a client's invoicing system need not be a bad thing. In fact, some of the agencies I work for simply pay me every month for the work done, either automatically where I don't have to do anything, or semi-automatically where I simply press a button when I want to trigger a payment (which will then occur a certain time span later, of course); but in neither case I have to create an invoice at all. Some of the agencies in Asia work that way and I like that very much.

In fact, with a modern IT system of any sort, the agency should have all the information needed for paying me (like how many words I translated/reviewed for them in a certain time span) at a fingertip, so there should be no need for me to compile all this information too and send it to them.

The trend should be to automatize all documentation of the work and consequently also automatize the invoicing and payment process.


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Mirko Mainardi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:59
Member
English to Italian
+ ...
No invoice at all? Jul 6

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:

Like many others, I hate administrative work like invoicing. But a client's invoicing system need not be a bad thing. In fact, some of the agencies I work for simply pay me every month for the work done, either automatically where I don't have to do anything, or semi-automatically where I simply press a button when I want to trigger a payment (which will then occur a certain time span later, of course); but in neither case I have to create an invoice at all. Some of the agencies in Asia work that way and I like that very much.

In fact, with a modern IT system of any sort, the agency should have all the information needed for paying me (like how many words I translated/reviewed for them in a certain time span) at a fingertip, so there should be no need for me to compile all this information too and send it to them.

The trend should be to automatize all documentation of the work and consequently also automatize the invoicing and payment process.


Not sure I understood you correctly. Are you saying you don't invoice at all?

As others have said, in most countries you are required by law to create invoices that conform to specific requirements, so clients insisting that you use their invoicing procedures on their portals or whatever just result in additional burden for us. In addition to being an evident distortion of the 'natural' vendor-client relationship, that becomes especially taxing if you have to rinse and repeat for each single client (and some of them seem to have devised nightmarish procedures, as someone mentioned before).


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:59
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
No invoicing? Jul 6

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:

Like many others, I hate administrative work like invoicing. But a client's invoicing system need not be a bad thing. In fact, some of the agencies I work for simply pay me every month for the work done, either automatically where I don't have to do anything, or semi-automatically where I simply press a button when I want to trigger a payment (which will then occur a certain time span later, of course); but in neither case I have to create an invoice at all. Some of the agencies in Asia work that way and I like that very much.

In fact, with a modern IT system of any sort, the agency should have all the information needed for paying me (like how many words I translated/reviewed for them in a certain time span) at a fingertip, so there should be no need for me to compile all this information too and send it to them.

The trend should be to automatize all documentation of the work and consequently also automatize the invoicing and payment process.


So you don't issue invoices at all? God forbid you ever get a tax audit! Prepare for the worst.


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